Drug overdoses in Ottawa on the rise, ER data suggests

Hospital emergency departments in Ottawa dealt with an average of 21 overdoses per week in late 2016, and 24 in early 2017.

New drug statistics look at visits to hospital emergency rooms

Ottawa Public Health has released new data tracking overdose cases in Ottawa hospital emergency departments between October 2017 and March 2017. (Danny Globerman/CBC News)

Hospital emergency departments in Ottawa dealt with an average of 21 drug overdoses per week in late 2016, and 24 per week in early 2017, according to new data released by Ottawa Public Health.

The figures capture emergency department visits by people between the ages of 10 and 64 who were in life-threatening or potentially life-threatening condition, from the second week of October 2016 to the end of March 2017.

The figures don't include people who may have overdosed but didn't access an emergency department.

Overdose visits were stable in 2016, then rose in January and returned to 2016 levels by late March, according to the City of Ottawa. 

Previously Ottawa Public Health relied on data from the region's coroner to count the number of deaths caused by overdose, particularly opioid overdoses.

Andrew Hendriks, a manager at Ottawa Public Health, said even with the new data from hospitals, it's difficult to put the situation in perspective.

"It's a new way that we can partner with the hospitals to make the data available to us. So the challenge is that we may not have historical data to go back to previous years," said Ottawa Public Health manager Andrew Hendriks, who chairs the city's overdose prevention and response task force.

View the overdose trends here.

Overdoses spiked in April

In April, hospitals reported a spike in overdose incidents, but the weekly stats released Wednesday don't include April.

The new data also doesn't specify the substance a patient consumed that led to an overdose. People aren't tested for the potentially lethal opiod fentanyl in the emergency room, according to Hendriks.

OPH also tries to exclude alcohol intoxication from the numbers, but sometimes a physician or nurse will enter an alcohol overdose into the new data collection system.

"That's one of the challenges with this data. What's good about it is it's the best data we have in terms of looking at trends over time in a timely way. The disadvantage, or one of the challenges with the data, is how specific it is," Hendriks added. 

"We can't always say specifically that it's related to an overdose, specific to an opioid or specific to something else. So it really depends on the quality of data that's going into the database."

Numbers updated monthly 

Hendriks says the data will be updated on a monthly basis and collected into six-month blocks. That will help health officials — and the public — monitor overdose trends, he said.

"We know that with the fentanyl crisis and with people being interested in data and fentanyl and overdoses and those types of things, that they're interested in the data components of it," said Hendriks. 

"So I'm committed to making this available to people as long as people are interested in it."

Read Ottawa Public Health's report here.

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